Ten Ideas for Helping Children Behave (Part One)

A child is not doing what he is supposed to do.  How does the caregiver respond?  We will use the example of “Alberto” and “Jacopo” to illustrate these points.  Jacopo’s chore is drying the pots and pans after dinner.  He is reading a book instead of doing his chore.  Alberto is a caregiver in the home in charge of Jacopo. 

What should Alberto do?

The first five ideas are contained in this mnemonic: C.H.E.C.K. – Connection, House Rules,  Expectations, Consequences, Kindness

Connection – Make a connection with the child.  It is always more effective to begin a correction by making a connection with the child.  Alberto approaches Jacopo and reminds him that it is his job to dry the pots.  Jacopo protests that he is reading; he offers to show Alberto his book.  Alberto might have insisted that Jacopo come with him immediately.  That might have worked, but it likely would have resulted in a struggle.  A struggle is to be avoided at all costs.  Instead, Alberto said, “I will look at your book with you and then we will go dry the pots.” After they looked at the book together, Alberto helped Jacopo, in a playful way, and with intermittent gentle shoves, get up and walk to the kitchen.  At one point, Alberto hitched Jacopo onto his hip and “walked” him a few paces.  Jacopo enjoyed this playful behavior on Alberto’s part, but it would not have been possible if Alberto had not taken the time to make a connection with Jacopo.   

House Rules – Make up a list of house rules that everyone knows, that are predictable.  In the home where Jacopo lives, the house rules are clear to everyone.  They are written on signs on the dining room wall.  Jacopo knows that it is his job to do his chores, and Alberto knows that it is his job to help Jacopo follow the house rules. 

Expectations – Make expectations that are appropriate for children’s developmental age and capacities.  It would not be appropriate for a 3 or 4-year old to dry the heavy pots and pans, but Jacopo is 8-years old, and Alberto knows that he is capable of doing the chore. When Alberto and Jacopo reach the sink with the wet pots and pans, Alberto chooses a few out of the many and offers them to Jacopo to do.  He knows that if Jacopo is faced with all the pots and pans at once, he may feel overwhelmed.  After Jacopo finishes these three pots, Alberto encourages him to do another few. 

Consequences – Make consequences that are agreed upon ahead of time and that fit the correctable behavior in proximity of time and severity of behavior.  The most effective consequence is the positive one of pleasing the caregiver.  If a negative consequence is required, it should be small and close in time to the correctable behavior.  Avoid the “nuclear alternative” in which a big punishment is threatened in response to a small act of misbehavior.  While Jacopo is drying the first pot, he clowns around and puts it on his head.  Alberto does not rise to the bait.  He glances at Jacopo but does not say anything, and gently turns his body away, communicating his lack of interest in his body language.  Finally, Alberto did not have to give Jacopo a “consequence”.  Jacopo finished his chore and was rewarded by Alberto’s approval. 

Kindness – Make positive responses to good behavior more important than negative responses to “bad behavior”.  After the chore was done, Alberto and Jacopo enjoyed a treat together.  Jacopo will keep the pleasant memory of a good time with Alberto in his mind – along with all the other memories – when he faces tasks he doesn’t want to do in the future.  If there are enough of these memories, he will be able to get the jobs done.  

The next post (Part Two of this list of 10) will introduce the “Five R’s” to help a child build a positive future.

Read this blog in Spanish.


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